IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston looks for the betting value in Saturday night’s fascinating heavyweight title rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia.
An underdog the last time they met, Oleksandr Usyk goes into today’s heavyweight title rematch with Anthony Joshua as the favourite (8/15 at Betfred).
The obvious question we have to ask is: What can Joshua do differently? Last time he was beaten clearly. He even looked wobbly in the last round.
Bringing Robert Garcia on board as trainer (working alongside Angel Fernandez) might help. At the very least, Garcia brings a new perspective.
Some feel that the Garcia/Fernandez team will have Joshua being more aggressive and assertive than he was in the first fight. But Joshua is 32. Can he really change that much?
In the first fight, on home ground in London, Joshua, to me, looked oddly tentative. I sensed a vulnerability in him. He didn’t react well to getting hit. Usyk was the fighter coming on strongly at the finish. He swept the last four rounds on all three judges’ cards.
Perhaps it was just a bad night for Joshua. He had the crowd behind him but maybe that wasn’t the advantage we thought it would be. In a strange way it could help AJ that the rematch is in Saudi Arabia because there will be a little less pressure, not such a great burden of expectation. (And Joshua has scored a “revenge” win in Saudi Arabia before, when he outpointed Andy Ruiz Jr.)
One thing is for sure, though. Joshua will need to fight a lot better than he did last time if he is to become a three-time heavyweight champion.
Usyk, 35, brings an undefeated record to the proceedings. He is one of those boxers who finds a way to win. But one wonders if the ongoing conflict in his native Ukraine will have any effect on Usyk psychologically. Probably not. Usyk looks like the type of individual who can shut out all outside influences. He just seems to have ice water in his veins. And maybe Usyk will draw inspiration from his country’s struggle against Russian forces.
Also, it would mean a lot to the Ukrainian people if Usyk wins; a ray of light in a dark time. Dare one suggest that it’s almost as if Usyk will be fighting for something bigger than a boxing championship?
Still, Team Joshua is saying all the right things. The plan seems to be for Joshua to use his advantages in height, weight and reach and put pressure on the smaller Usyk in a consistent way and seek to slow him down with body punches. And, if you remember, there was a point in the middle rounds of the first fight when Joshua did seem to be hurting Usyk downstairs.
So we saw a glimpse of how Joshua might have a road to revenge in the rematch. If you feel AJ can get it right this time, Betfred offers Joshua at 17/10.
Last time, going into the ninth round Joshua was in front on one judge’s card and level on another. Usyk took the play away from him by closing strongly, sweeping the last four rounds on the judges’ cards. Joshua had quite a nasty swelling under the eye by the later rounds. That didn’t help him. However, in a sense, Joshua let the fight slip away from him in London last September. He must not let that happen in the rematch.
Worryingly for AJ backers, Usyk was able to take Joshua’s punches last time — and Usyk demonstrated that he hits hard enough to hurt the British fighter. Usyk is roughly the same weight as he was for the first fight with Joshua, but AJ came in almost five pounds heavier than he was for the London bout. I’m not sure if the extra weight will help Joshua.
This is heavyweight boxing, anything can happen, but if Usyk comes out and boxes the way he did in the first fight, using angles, hitting and moving — in short if he gets off to a strong start and banks some of the initial rounds — I believe it will be very difficult for Joshua to get a solid footing in the fight.
My suspicion is that Usyk simply has AJ’s number.
Can’t make up your mind who wins? Well, the general price on the fight to go the distance is 6/5 (+120) while the fight to end inside the scheduled 12 rounds is offered at around 5/8 (-160).
Neither fighter to score a knockdown is an interesting bet, offered at around +190 (19/10) at some shops. There were no knockdowns last time. Usyk has never been dropped and I don’t think he has ever been close to going down. So the no-knockdowns idea could be worth considering. There are the usual “total rounds” propositions. I like the “over 9.5 rounds” at -150 (2/3). But there’s a lot of choice out there in the various betting markets.
In the chief supporting bout, undefeated heavyweights meet when Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic clashes with China’s towering Zhilei Zhang in a scheduled 12-rounder. Hrgovic looks the more well-rounded fighter but the southpaw Zhang is extremely dangerous in the early part of a fight. I’m expecting a KO win for Hrgovic but with two big hitters in the ring there’s a chance that each could be wary of the other’s power so there might be value in the “over 5.5 rounds” at 11/10 (+110).
There’s an interesting fight in Hollywood, Florida, tonight, when Sergey Lipinets steps in as a substitute for Adrien Broner to face Omar Figueroa in a 12-rounder at 140 pounds. Lipinets was booked to fight on the undercard, so he’s been in the gym.
I like Lipinets in this fight but players jumped on the early line (Lipinets around 5/7) and the number quickly zoomed to about 5/18. The match weight will, I think, suit Lipinets, who looked on the smallish side for a welterweight.
Figueroa has always been hittable but workrate and pressure paid off for him. But Figueroa looked terrible in his last fight, when Abel Ramos stopped him in six rounds. He’s had issues with mental health (depression, I believe) and alcohol-related challenges. Although Figueroa asserts that he is now in a good place mentally and physically, it’s difficult to trust him entirely.
Lipinets is a good, solid fighter and I see him as the better puncher in the match-up. The current odds on Lipinets are far too high for my liking but the “over 8.5 rounds” at evenmoney could be worth a look. Figueroa is in the so-called Last Chance Saloon and I do expect a game effort from him. I would be quite surprised if Lipinets simply blew him away.
Main image: Oleksandr Usyk (left) and Anthony Joshua (right) rematch in Saudi Arabia tonight. Will it be repeat or revenge? Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.